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Nightlife in Cornwall

From beach bars and family festivals to cocktail lounges and full-throttle party nights, Cornwall’s nightlife offers fun for all ages. Whether you fancy hunkering down in a country pub after rambling along the South West Coast Path, or want to let your salty hair down and dance into the après sea scene, there are plenty of ways to wind down: Sip a cocktail and watch the sunset by the waves, listen to beats by the beach, cast off in a party boat or sip a pint of craft ale in a cosy inn.

Festival scene

In recent years Cornwall’s festival scene has burgeoned, luring international headline acts to incredible venues where you can dance with your toes in the sand. The hottest date on the festival calendar is Boardmasters, a five-day extravaganza that takes over Newquay with a world-class surfing competition, beach gigs and a huge cliff-top festival arena hosting big-name music acts including Florence and the Machine in 2019. Fast growing in popularity is Perranporth’s Tunes in the Dunes, which has seen Billy Ocean, UB40 and the Stereo MC’s take the stage and promises another stellar line-up this year.

The newest of the festivals is The Great Estate – Cornwall’s most rambunctious garden fête – which returns to the sprawling grounds of Scorrier House with world-class music, a silent disco in the woods, a vintage car rally, a Victorian-themed sports day and a well-being area with a private swimming pool. Meanwhile Bude’s independent Leopallooza festival – described as the greatest house party in a field – has invited The Vaccines to headline an exciting cast of bands and artists from the UK and beyond. Bringing a world-music twist to the festival scene, Tropical Pressure brings the rich cultures of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean to a celebration on the cliffs at Porthtowan.

Cornwall’s most established garden party is the Port Eliot Festival – a quirky, fun and creative gathering on the banks of the Tamar, where you can rub shoulders with literary stars, rock stars and foodie wizards, enjoy outdoor cinema, go wild swimming or dance in the big tops. A much smaller affair is the Rock Oyster Festival, which lures foodies and music fans to a summer party beside the Camel Estuary. Meanwhile the Little Orchard Cider And Music Festival is not only big on cider and sea shanties, but also hosts some of the best bands emerging in the UK.

Tipped as one of the most stunning venues for live music in the country, Lusty Glaze, on the outskirts of Newquay, hosts a series of Sundowner Sessions throughout summer, where the likes of Newton Faulkner and Morcheeba have taken the stage by the waves. Come winter the live music heads inside Lusty’s beach bar for cosy woodburner sessions, featuring some of Cornwall’s much-loved acoustic acts. This private cove is rivalled by the unique venue of The Eden Project, where summer’s Eden Sessions are often sold out well in advance and attract international megastars like Blondie, Björk and Massive Attack.

The hottest date on the festival calendar is Boardmasters, a five-day extravaganza that takes over Newquay with a world-class surfing competition, beach gigs and a huge cliff-top festival arena

A tipple by the waves

In a county surrounded by ocean, there are plenty of places to enjoy a tipple by the waves as the sun goes down. Arguably the coolest of these is still the legendary Blue Bar in Porthtowan, where rolling surf and cracking sunsets are the backdrop to drinking, dining, live music and comedy nights. Also vying for the honour of Cornwall’s best beach bar is The Watering Hole in Perranporth, where you can chill out surfside for the sunset, fight the seagulls for your fish and chips, then dance until the early hours to top British bands and DJs. The Watering Hole’s series of summer concerts, Bands In The Sands, have featured everyone from The Darkness to Jools Holland, and Ziggy Marley has already been announced for 2019. Not far from the Watering Hole is the new Alcatraz bar and cafe, where you can soak up those sublime sunsets from a stylish cliff-top setting. Another venue fast gaining a reputation for its surfside sounds is The Surf Den at Sennen’s Beach Bar, where DJs take over the decks every Friday and Saturday evening throughout summer.

If it’s rolling surf and rocking nightlife you’re after, you can’t beat Newquay’s line-up of bars and clubs backing its world-class surfing beaches. Boogie the night away at Fistral Beach Bar’s silent disco, sip cocktails with a view in Barefoot Beach Bar, then dance the night away at Dead Famous Liquor Lounge or Whiskers. If you’re looking for somewhere a little more sophisticated, seek out the hip Tom Thumb speak easy, where expert mixologists serve premium cocktails and hold master-classes and tasting sessions. Or sample the finest Cornish spirits and craft beers at the boutique 55 Yards Bar and Bottleshop.

Cocktail making

Catch some cracking sunsets at one of Cornwall’s many beach bars

If you prefer a more serene setting for a sundowner, you don’t have to stray far from the bright lights of Newquay. Perched on Pentire Headland, at the southern end of Fistral Beach, take a seat on the terrace or warm your cockles by the fire at the Lewinnick Lodge. This revamped 18th-century cottage has posed as a smugglers’ den and a lobster hold, and is a sublime spot to see the sunset over the swarms of surfers on Fistral Beach. However, if you are prepared to explore further off the beaten track, wind up The Atlantic Highway to Trebarwith Strand (near Port Isaac), where you can sip local ales while looking out to the rugged coastline from The Port William Inn.

Although you don’t get the breath-taking sunset on the south coast, there are plenty of cool hangouts where you can still enjoy beach views. Lounge on the decking at the Gylly Beach Café in Falmouth, where there are also regular music nights with tunes spilling out onto the sand. At the Godolphin Arms in Marazion you can sip fine wines and local lagers while you drool over Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount, and since the addition of a huge glass-fronted extension, you don’t have to rely on blue skies to soak up the scenery. Skip along the south coast to surfy Praa Sands and follow the footprints from the beach into the trendy Sand Bar, where you can clap eyes on jaw-dropping views from the decking or through the long-drop windows.

If it’s rolling surf and rocking nightlife you’re after, you can’t beat Newquay’s line-up of bars and clubs backing its world-class surfing beaches

Pub life

Of course, after an active day at the beach or visiting Cornwall’s cultural gems, you might prefer to give the party life a miss and hunker down by the fire in a cosy inn with a pint of local ale for company. Enveloped in the romantic landscape of the Helford Passage, the 300-year-old Ferryboat Inn is one of the most atmospheric waterside pubs to sip locally-brewed beers, dine on farm-to-fork food and watch the boats putter to and fro on the estuary. Equally alluring is the Pandora Inn, tucked away on Restronguet Creek along the River Fal, where you can arrive by boat or road and take a seat on the pontoon – crabbing line in one hand, pint in the other – or find a cosy nook inside the historic 13th-century inn and peek out at the view.

If you like a drinking hole with a bit of history, there are plenty in Cornwall to choose from. The Old Inn & Restaurant in St Breward is Cornwall’s highest inn and has been a meeting place for travellers crossing Bodmin Moor since the 11th century, when it provided shelter for monks building the neighbouring church. The 12th-century Victoria Inn, in Perranuthnoe, is one of the oldest pubs in the county, where you can kick back by the log fire or tuck into award-winning food cooked by a Raymond Blanc-trained chef.

Another of Cornwall’s oldest pubs is the iconic Sloop Inn in St Ives, which opened its doors in 1312. Take a seat on one of the benches spilling out to the harbour, or find a pew under the low beams and sip one of the cask ales. Hike 10 kilometres along the South West Coast Path and you’ll deserve a pint of real ale under the low granite ceilings at the Tinners Arms in Zennor – a place that DH Lawrence once called home and an idyllic 13th-century inn far from the trappings of modern life. The Old Success Inn, nudging the pearly sands of Sennen Cove, harks back to the 17th century when fishermen came here to share the profits from their catch. Amidst the sepia prints and nautical memorabilia, these days it’s coast path hikers, beachgoers, dog walkers and surfers that huddle around the bar to fuel up on hearty pub food and St Austell Brewery beers.

Like much of Cornwall, many of the pubs have had a makeover to meet the demands of modern-day tourists. One of Falmouth’s most historic pubs, the quayside Chainlocker, recently underwent a multi-million pound makeover so that the bar and restaurant make the most of the harbour views from the upper level. A lick of contemporary style hasn’t detracted from the traditional core of The Driftwood Spars in Trevaunance Cove, where exposed beams, log fires and an onsite microbrewery make this one of the most popular places to eat and drink in St Agnes. Similarly, the Queen’s Hotel in St Ives transformed itself from a local boozer to a stylish gastropub, now bedecked in Cornish art, vintage furniture and comfy sofas, and serving cask ales and fine wines alongside gourmet food sourced from Cornwall’s farms and fishermen.

Perhaps the finest example of a drinking den that marries the rustic Cornish lifestyle, chic style and sheer good taste is the Gurnard’s Head, hidden off the beaten track between St Ives and Land’s End. Whether you stomp straight off the coast path with a dog in tow, or arrive in convoy with family and friends, you’ll feel at home in this friendly inn on the cliffs of West Cornwall. You’ll find Cornish ales on tap, plenty of unusual wines and an upmarket menu packed with fish, game and other produce plucked from the surrounding coast and countryside. You can even stay over and rest your head if you drink too much to get home from the ends-of-the-earth location.

Everything you need to know about Cornwall

Where to eat in Cornwall

The best things to do in Cornwall

The best shopping in Cornwall

Your guide to arts and culture in Cornwall

Image credits: ©Elliott White/Beer & Bird; Sam Neill/Boardmasters Festival; Santiago Nunez/Adobe Stock, St Austell Brewery

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